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What is Search Engine Marketing?

What is Search Engine Marketing or SEM? It is a form of promotion and advertising that is a component of a digital marketing strategy. Its primary objective is to assist businesses in ranking their content higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is Search Engine Marketing

Historically, SEM was used to refer to both organic and paid search marketing activities. However, the phrase now exclusively refers to paid campaigns. While SEO’s objective is to generate organic traffic via optimization techniques, SEM encompasses all paid strategies businesses use to increase visibility on search engines and obtain a competitive advantage.

In this article, we will explore what is search engine marketing, how SEM differs from SEO, the elements of a search engine marketing campaign, the benefits of SEM, how to optimize SEM campaigns and conclude with answers to some frequently asked questions.

What Is Search Engine Marketing? Is It The Same As Pay-Per-Click (PPC)?

Paid search marketing strategies are used in SEM, which is also known as PPC (Pay-Per-Click). When a Pay-Per-Click ad appears in search results, and its content is optimized according to SEO best practices, it comes under SEM.

SEM can incorporate both local and worldwide web marketing. It can use Google, Bing, and Yahoo for marketing and internet advertising for businesses and consumers. Paid search enables you to be found on search engines for keywords relating to your niche or domain, resulting in increased traffic to your site, lead generation, and brand exposure.

Learn How SEO and SEM double boost your web sales?


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about giving your site a boost so that you rank better in organic search results. The vast majority of SEO is focused on creating links, establishing domain authority, and ranking targeted keywords across the website. Having a site that follows SEO best practices will always benefit you. You want to set a firm foundation that will allow you to be well-positioned in the SERPs so that you receive as many free clicks as possible.

Want to learn more about SEO? Read this article on the Basics of SEO.

SEM will provide you better “Ad” slots placement, whereas SEO will ensure that you appear organically on the search engine results page. On the other side, you’ll need to spend to appear on the SERPs when it comes to search engine marketing. You can be featured on Google’s first page even if you don’t have a high site authority if you pay for it.

Advertisers must pay when a user clicks on their ad; this is known as the cost-per-click (CPC) or the cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM). With sponsored advertisements, you have more say over what appears in your search ad and when it is displayed.

Though search engine marketing may initially take more time to set up, it can allow you to grow your brand and client base a lot faster. While SEO is a long-term approach, SEM produces immediate results that can be easily tested due to its focus on modern markets.

SEM will introduce you to potential customers who actively seek your kind of product, service, or brand. To get their attention, you need to be in the top results of their searches, or else someone else will gain their business.

To learn more about what is search engine marketing and search engine optimization strategies, consider taking up a Digital Marketing Course

Elements of A Search Engine Marketing Campaign

To have a strong SEM campaign, you need to:

#1 Identify Your Marketing Goals: 

At the start of any campaign, it is best to brainstorm what you want to achieve. Try the ‘smart’ approach and ensure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Most campaigns have three essential goals:

  • Improve traffic.
  • Generate leads.
  • Increase brand/site visibility.
  • Gain subscribers to emailing lists (potentially turning them into customers.)
  • Add more followers on social media platforms.

#2 Know Your Target Audience:  

To select your target group, you must correctly identify your buyer persona. A persona describes the psychographic characteristics, goals, problems, values, and points of view of a group of people.

You can create a persona by first researching your prospective stakeholders or clients through an interview or a survey and gather data. Next, you need to analyze the data and draw conclusions. You should be able to identify goals, personality types, and behavioral patterns.  Once you have this data, you can now design a strategy to align your persona’s needs to your business goals and how best to convey a thought or an idea to them.               

#3 Research Relevant Keywords:

The next step is vital to the success of your campaign. The keywords you select must be perfectly aligned to the way your target audience searches for information online.

There are three types of searches that people carry out. The first is by those who don’t know what they are looking for, the second is by those doing comparison shopping, and the third is by those who have already decided. Your goal is to target those who are comparison shopping and convert them into customers.

Choose a balance of short keywords (exact matches) and long-tail keywords (phrases) which have higher global/local search volume and low competition. This will enhance your prospects of appearing in search results. Some keyword tools are SemRush, Google Adwords, and Ask The Public.

#4 Pick Suitable Advertising Platforms: 

The research on your buyer personas will also give you a good idea of where to advertise. The list of options keeps growing daily, but we will mention the most popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Social media platforms include YouTube, Facebook, Linked In, Pinterest and Instagram. You can target B2B networks for niche products and services. You can even approach blogs that your target audience reads and form an affiliate relationship with them.

Ace Your PPC Strategy with the best Digital Marketing Course. 

#5 Test Your Campaign and Measure The Results: 

Now that you have your campaign up and running, you need to measure its success. What are you looking for? You want to know if the right people are finding your site, engaging with your content, downloading e-books, brochures, signing up for demos, live events, and email lists, and finally, if they are buying your services/products? Several tools can help you measure these metrics. The parameters measured are:

  • CTR (Click Through Rate) percentage.
  • The bounce rate of landing pages.
  • Call-To-Action conversion rate.
  • Subscription rate for newsletters.
  • Clicks on the “contact us” page.
  • Shopping cart abandonment statistics.
  • The downloading rate for e-books and brochures.
  • Hits, obtained from the “thank you” page.

Remember to continuously test all the elements of your ad like page structure, design, colors, positioning of CTA, conversion forms, headlines, and body copy. It’s best to do this one element at a time and collect your results over a course of time so that they are statistically significant.

Read our detailed article on Google Digital Marketing Courses 

#6 Maximize Conversions: 

Although many businesses understand what is search engine marketing, there is still a lack of clarity on the importance of CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization). CRO gives you a good idea about how well your SEM campaign is going, and by performing optimizations, you can achieve high ROI.

A well-structured CRO plan will help you perform data-driven testing, provide valuable information to help you tweak your campaign along the way, and give a road map of the buyer’s journey from impression to conversion.

A notable best practice would be to optimize your Quality Score. Your ‘Ad rank’ on Google is determined by the Quality Score (QS) of your keywords and your CPC (Cost-Per-Click). You can optimize this score by focusing on the relevance of your keywords to your ad, create dynamic landing pages, and ensure your ad copy quickly sells the benefits of the click, thereby improving your Click Through Rate (CTR).

Benefits of Search Engine Marketing 

Now that we have explored what is search engine marketing, let’s look at the benefits it offers for businesses.

  • Helps You Understand Your Target Market: Before beginning an SEM campaign, a thorough understanding of your target market is required. First, you must know what keywords your intended audience uses and include them in your ad.

Then, your ad will rise to the top of the search results, making it more relevant to your intended audience. To begin, find out what issues they’re having, as well as their demographics, such as where they live, how old they are, and whether the bulk of your customers are male or female. The better your firm performs, the more you’ll learn about your target market.

  • Enables Brand Recognition: Consumers get a sense of who you are when you use your brand to tell a story. The focus of your narrative should be on your ideal customer and how your company can assist them in overcoming a particular challenge. When your messages are clear and compelling, your target audience will gravitate towards your brand whenever they see your logo or name.
  • Generates More Traffic to Your Website:  When your online presence gains more visibility, you will draw more visitors to your site. But this strategy only works when you have used the right keywords for your target audience and have a compelling ad copy.
  • Helps Produce Leads Faster: SEM is the way to go if you want immediate traffic. Search engine marketing yields immediate results because your ad is ready to be seen by your target market as soon as you create it. You can quickly generate leads and sales as a result of this.
  • It Doesn’t Require A Large Budget: SEM also has the advantage of only costing you when someone clicks on your ad. Your ad will be displayed for free, and you won’t have to pay unless someone takes action on it. You can also have a minimal budget for the same. This is likely to increase only if your ad gains a lot of attention, leading to a large number of clicks.
  • It Is Mobile-friendly: Mobile marketing has emerged as a leading marketing strategy today as most people use their mobile phones to search for information. However, it is also important to note that not just your ad but your website is also mobile-friendly.
  • Keeps You Ahead of Your Competitors: When you take time to research your market, find the right keywords, and craft an effective advertisement, you’re already one step ahead of the competition.

In addition, because it’s more appealing, your ad will get more clicks from your intended audience. Furthermore, while your competitors rely solely on organic traffic to reach their intended audience, SEM allows you to stay one step ahead of them due to its speed.

  • Help With Retargeting Your Target Audience: While you may be familiar with your target market and its behavior, some of them may not convert to customers. For example, your target market may click on your ad, visit your website, and even add something to their shopping cart, but they may not make a purchase.

That is why SEM is so valuable. It can assist in retargeting users who have previously visited your website or clicked on your ad. It can help you rekindle their interest in your company and boost your conversion rate.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1.     What is search engine marketing in brief?

SEM is a form of digital marketing that is used to get your website or your client’s website on the first page of a search engine by promoting paid ads and optimizing the content of the ad with SEO best practices.

2. Is it essential to have an SEM strategy?

While you may know what is search engine marketing, you also need to understand the importance of having a well-designed strategy. A paid strategy includes using paid ads with a defined budget and optimizing the content for various social media platforms. The selection of platforms is based on their target audience behavior to increase invisibility and ultimately generate leads.

3. Is SEM different from SEO?

The major distinction between SEO and SEM is that SEO focuses on improving a website’s organic search results to increase traffic. This can be measured using Google Analytics and is optimized to rank on Google’s SERP organically. On the other hand, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) aims to generate both organic and sponsored search traffic and visibility for the site.

4. Is there a course to learn about SEM?

To learn what is search engine marketing, it is best to take up a course from a recognized institute. Many institutes offer both online and offline courses. SEM is considered a part of a digital marketing strategy, and hence doing a course on Digital Marketing will help you under this concept better.

5. What are the features of SEM tools/software?

Website owners and professional digital marketing specialists utilize the tools to analyze and optimize their sites. Additionally, you may use tools to ensure that your digital marketing activities generate qualified and focused leads.

These applications assist in increasing the exposure of online products in search engine results. Furthermore, the applications enable you to study competitors to identify appropriate high-impression keywords.

6. What are some of the best SEM tools?

There are plenty of tools to pick from. Some which have gained a big following and are reputed in the market are Google Ads, SEMRush, Wordstream, OptyMyzr, Keywordtool.io, and Spyfu.


Hopefully, this guide has given you a better idea of what is search engine marketing and why it’s so important in today’s world. At first, understanding how to plan your SEM campaign can be intimidating, but it becomes effortless with practice.

Using paid ads to improve your search engine rankings has various advantages. When used appropriately, small and large businesses can benefit from exposure and brand recognition to meet customer attraction, conversion, and profit objectives.

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